The Many Considerations of Skinny-Dipping

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Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at

I am 18 and just graduated from high school. This summer I’m working as a counselor at a sleepaway camp that I attended as a kid. I have a friend working here, and I also know some of the staff from when I was a camper. The first group of campers will not arrive until next week, but the staff arrived a week early to set up.

My friend has friends who live nearby, and yesterday they invited us to hike to a lake after work was over in the evening. It was a short walk, and everyone seemed really friendly. It was very hot out, and when we got to the lake, I was surprised when three people took off their clothes to jump in the water. My friend did, too. I sat at the edge with another girl and just put my feet in the water. Part of me wanted to go swimming, but I didn’t really know what to do because I have not been skinny-dipping before. I wonder if people are disappointed in me or if they judged me for not going in. Nobody said anything, but I still felt self-conscious. Now they’re talking about going to the lake again and invited me to come again if I want to. Maybe I’m sheltered, but is it normal to just expect someone to get naked?

You never have to be naked around anyone you don’t want to. Period. If the idea makes you anxious, you can just take it off the table. That said, “normal” is a loaded word, but it’s not uncommon for adults to go skinny-dipping (and it can be totally positive as long as—caveats—they’re in a private place, everyone’s comfortable with it, and there isn’t a power dynamic that puts pressure on certain people to participate). It’s also totally normal to not go skinny-dipping, or not want to. That’s why we invented swimsuits. Everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to modesty. The question is whether this is something you want to be part of or not. 

Maybe you have no interest in being around naked people or find the whole thing unpleasant, in which case you should simply decline the invite. Even if skinny-dipping at the lake becomes a regular way for these folks to have fun when they’re not at work, it’ll probably become less regular once summer is in full swing—and you’ll have plenty of other things to do, too. Say thanks but no thanks, then grab a good book or hang out with some of the other counselors. Or if you really like these people, you could suggest a different activity, like scoping out a new trail or going to a public swimming place. You could even bring your own games, like a frisbee or a slackline, so that there are things to do out of the water, too. 

But it sounds like you aren’t uncomfortable with other people skinny-dipping so much as the perceived expectation that you, too, should be skinny-dipping. You’re straight out of high school, and high school cultures tend to put pressure on students to conform, so it makes sense that you’d feel like you’re expected to participate. But in fact, most adults don’t care how their friends dress or what their friends wear to go swimming—and I suspect that these people aren’t expecting anything from you at all. They’re just doing their thing. They’ll probably be happy if you join in and have a good time, but they won’t think too much about it if you don’t.

What we notice in other people, more than anything else, is their energy and mood. If you’re naked and uncomfortable, you’ll stand out far more than if you’re in a swimsuit and enjoying yourself, even if no one else is wearing a swimsuit. You could be around skinny-dippers and wear a T-shirt and shorts in the water. You could wear one thing around some people and something else around other people, or you could wear different things on different days, depending on how you’re feeling. It’s all normal. As long as it’s what makes you comfortable, people probably won’t think about it for more than a few seconds. And if they do, it’s likely because they’re noticing, not judging: Oh, Emma likes to swim in shorts. That’s not a bad thing. It’s how they get to know you better.

Either way, you should let your friend know how you’re feeling so she can make a point to check in with you. And in the meantime, you can bring this lesson to your work as a counselor: when the kids get to camp, pay attention to the ones who hang back or who don’t participate in certain activities, and talk to them to find out what they need. You never know what might be unfamiliar or tough for people, and by making sure that they’re included, you’ll help make the summer more fun for everyone.

The New Defender Will Not Be Like the Old One

The biggest problem when you’re trying to reinvent a famous product? Often it’s the very owners and fans that made your brand legendary in the first place. That’s the trouble Land Rover faces, as it prepares to release a totally new Defender in September. It won’t be anything like the old one, which we think is actually a good thing. 

Last sold in the United States back in 1997, the Land Rover Defender now enjoys an almost mythical status among 4x4 enthusiasts. They’ve seen its iconic silhouette on Instagram. They’ve seen these rigs traverse raging rivers during the Camel Trophy competition. Because it was also sold here in very limited numbers, for only a handful of years, Defenders also now command extremely high prices in the used market, often selling for several times their original value. 

All that has combined to create a huge level of anticipation for the new Defender, which Land Rover is currently showing in pre-production form, wearing a light disguise, in the run up to its fall release. But while this new model will reference the old with some design elements, key details also reveal a vehicle that couldn’t be more different than the old one. And that is upsetting enthusiasts of the original—largely because most of them have never actually driven one of the old ones. We have, extensively, which is just one of the reasons we’re excited about what’s coming. 


Defenders Have Always Been Range Rovers Underneath

Central to the argument of the new Defender’s detractors is that the new model looks like it’s going to share its platform with the current Range Rover. And unlike the old Defender, which was essentially a stone-age farm tool, the Range Rover is a totally modern vehicle with a fully-independent chassis, cross-linked air suspension, industry-leading traction control, and a locking rear differential. 

But basing a Defender on Range Rover technology is nothing new. When the original Defender (then known as the Series 110) was first unveiled in 1983, it was built atop the coil-sprung chassis originally developed for the first-generation Range Rover. Back in those days, coil-spring suspension was unheard of in the off-road world. People were afraid of it. Old timey leaf spring suspension was thought to be heavier duty, never mind its poor ride and handling characteristics. Land Rover enthusiasts were so concerned by those new-fangled coils, that Santana, a Spanish company which built re-branded Rovers in Spain, even decided to retrofit its Defenders with leaf springs all the way up to 1994. Eventually, of course, the superior performance of coils overcame the fears of luddites, and the ride and handling benefits they offered are part of what made the Defender so legendary. 

Basing the new Defender on the new Range Rover endows it with  similarly forward-looking tech. For one thing, this new Defender will actually be getting a factory-fitted locking rear differential for the first time ever. That’s an off-road traction aid so commonplace these days that you’ll even find one on the Fiat-based Jeep Cherokee crossover. In contrast, the old Defender had open differentials on each end, meaning that if one tire lost traction, it basically became a two-wheel drive vehicle. Doesn’t that sound a little ancient? 

The new Defender will be available in both long wheelbase four-door (pictured), and two-door short wheelbase versions. (Land Rover)

It’s All About Traction

Land Rover began solving the problem of off-road traction in the mid-1990s through the use of then-new antilock braking systems. Where other ABS systems only detected when wheels would lock up due to brake pressure overcoming traction, Land Rover managed to develop a system that was also capable of working the opposite way—when too much throttle overcame traction, resulting in wheelspin. By applying some brake pressure to a single wheel if it was spinning too fast, Land Rover discovered a way to electronically replicate the function of locking differentials. 

The off-road world considered this to be a gimmick. Most enthusiasts didn’t understand how the system worked, and would turn it off rather than take advantage of it. But its advantages were undeniable. Where mechanical lockers can be difficult to engage, expensive to fit, and can reduce a vehicle’s ability to steer around corners when activated, the electronic alternative is affordable and works only in the split-second that it’s needed, requiring no input from the driver. And because they only operate in the moment where traction is lost, they don’t effect steering. Land Rover kept developing the system, even as other manufacturers began to copy it. By 2005, when the Land Rover Discovery LR3 was launched, what was by then called Terrain Response had finally gained a good reputation. In that vehicle, you could dial-in the type of terrain you were crossing, and the traction control system would fine tune its responses accordingly. 

Now in its second iteration on the current Range Rover and other models, Terrain Response 2 is even smarter and more capable. Turn that knob and your Land Rover will automatically and continuously adjust its ride height, alter its throttle response, tweak its cross-linked suspension, and turn the rear locker on and off to adapt to whatever challenges the vehicle faces. Off-road, its the most capable Range Rover ever made. Turn that knob back to road mode, and its the smoothest, most quiet, and fastest Range Rover ever too. 

It appears as if the rear door will open sideways, as the Land Rover gods intended. (Land Rover)

Let’s Talk Suspension

In the same way people feared coil springs, they now fear independent suspension—especially independent air suspension. 

A solid axle, as fitted to the original Defender, connects both wheels with a solid steel tube. This forces both wheels on the axle to react to any inputs from the driver or terrain. Off-road enthusiasts prefer this because it enables them to predict where the lowest point on their vehicle will be over any obstacle, because that lowest point—the differential housing—never moves. If you slam on the brakes in a solid axle vehicle, the axle itself remains at a constant height, and only the sprung portion of your vehicle (everything held up by the suspension), dives down. 

In contrast, independent suspension provides much improved ride quality and handling. But off-roaders don’t like it because ground clearance constantly changes as the vehicle moves. 


Spy shots of the all-new Defender, taken while it was doing prototype testing in Moab, show that it is fitted with independent, and height adjustable air suspension. Like Terrain Response, Land Rover first began offering air suspension the mid-1990s, where it quickly gained a reputation as being fragile and unreliable. But also like Terrain Response, 26 years of development have worked wonders. 

Now, Land Rover’s cross-linked air suspension systems are able to function both fully-independently, or replicate the pendulum effect of a solid axle, raising one wheel on the “axle” when the other droops down. It also enables an adjustable ride height. Together, these functions enable the same vehicle to excel at high speeds, on the road, or traverse serious off-road obstacles at a crawling pace. That the new Defender won’t drive like a school bus on the road will be a huge leap forward. 

Packaging Will Make the Defender Unique

Even Land Rover’s fastest, most luxurious model—the Supercharged Range Rover—is still capable of tackling some of the most challenging off-road trails in the world. We’ve driven that vehicle through trails like Moab’s Hell’s Revenge, Poison Spider, and Seven Mile Rim, and even on terrain that’s more typically the home of built Jeeps, this totally stock, near-$120,000 luxury SUV barely spun a wheel. 

But getting a seven-seat luxurymobile through a rock garden requires professional spotters—several of them. The Range Rover is, first and foremost, built to haul people in comfort, and considerations like approach, breakover, and departure angles must be adapted to that need. Judging by these photos of a camouflaged prototype, that’s what the new Defender fixes. It will prioritize the angles needed off-road over passenger space. And that’s all Land Rover really needs to do to make this thing extraordinary: simply allow it to take full advantage of the technology the company has worked so hard to develop. 

Look closely, and you'll see a camo'd snorkel on the left side of the windshield. (Land Rover)

A Truly Modern Vehicle

Evaluated objectively, the old Defender was awful. You could see daylight between the closed doors and the body they loosely fit in, yet all the glass would fog up the instant there was any moisture in the air. Moisture that, by the way, was free to leak inside as you drove. If that was all that was leaking, then a Defender driver knew that they were on the verge of a breakdown, because all the oil in the engine, the transmission, or the axles must already be gone. The driver’s seat couldn’t accommodate anyone over 5 feet, 9 inches tall, yet the clutch pedal took the strength of a full-grown adult to push. They were so slow, and so ponderous on the road that highways were virtually off-limits, yet required extensive and expensive modification to perform off-road with anything close to the aplomb their image would suggest. And let’s just say their reputation for poor reliability was justified. 

Land Rover can no longer afford to trade on its image alone, as the old Defender did for so long. It needs to produce a safe, reliable, modern vehicle that can offer a wide range of drivers both capability off-road, and convenience and ease of use on-road. From a traction standpoint alone it appears as if this new one will be able to go much further than the old. Land Rover has never looked backwards with any of its vehicles; all signs point to this new Defender moving the 4x4 forward into a new era.